Residents approve $16.9 million levy to support
2015-16 spending plan that calls for 2.7% rate decrease
Property owners in the Grafton School District can expect a reduction in the tax rate to support the 2015-16 school budget.
With little fanfare, residents at Monday’s annual meeting approved a $16.9 million levy for the spending plan, a $39,000 decrease from 2014-15.
The levy is required for a budget that includes $22.9 million in general fund expenditures, a $546,000 increase from 2014-15.
The supporting tax rate is projected at $11.14 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, a 31-cent (2.7%) reduction in the previous rate.
Based on the new rate, the owner of a $300,000 house would pay $3,343 in school taxes, a decrease of $91. The owner of a $250,000 house would pay $2,786, a $76 reduction.
In a presentation Monday, Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski said the budget is based on several projections that will not be finalized for several weeks, including state aid, student enrollment and the district’s equalized property valuation.
The district, Sobocinski said, anticipates an increase of $960,156 in equalized aid for 2015-16, an 18.4% hike that would be one of the largest among 424 public school districts statewide. The aid projection is more than twice the $465,000 increase included in a preliminary budget the Grafton School Board approved in June.
Although the aid hike doesn’t mean the district will receive additional funds, the increase can be used to reduce the levy needed to support spending. Further paring the levy is a combination of increases in districtwide property valuation and enrollment due to the addition of a 4-year-old kindergarten program, which is now in its second year.
Sobocinski said the budget includes a projected increase of 2.5% in valuation, which is estimated at $1.5 billion. The 2015-16 enrollment is estimated at 2,201 students, up 73 from 2014-15, she noted.
“Without 4K, we would be in declining enrollment, which would hurt us,” Sobocinski said. “It’s hard to generate revenue with the enrollment being flat.”
The board could have used the state aid increase to cut the tax rate even further. However, in August, the board decided to use $600,000 from the levy to pare the district’s debt service.
The cash defeasance plan, which is being used by a number of other area school districts, will provide interest savings and reduce the levy needed for the 2016-17 budget, board members agreed.
Supt. Mel Lightner recommended the cash defeasance approach, noting that holding the line on the levy will also help the district prepare for a possible referendum on upgrading school facilities that could be held in spring 2016.
The board continues to explore upgrade options, which could cost as much as $57.5 million, and is expected to make a decision by January on whether to hold a referendum.
There were few public comments during Monday’s meeting before residents approved the levy by a 16-0 vote. The levy includes $14.4 million for the general fund, $2.38 million for debt service and $50,000 for the capital expansion fund.
Residents also unanimously approved board members’ salaries with no increases for the 2015-16 school year. The president, vice president, clerk and treasurer will again be paid $1,450, with other members receiving $1,350.
The board retains the power to finalize the budget, which is expected to be done at its Oct. 26 meeting.
Board Treasurer Paul Lorge praised the work done by Sobocinski and Lightner in preparing the budget.
“The district is strong from a financial perspective but is also stronger in their hands,” Lorge said.